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Blood test may give early warning of melanoma relapse

A blood test may one day be able to identify early relapse in patients with advanced melanoma skin cancer, according to a study published on in the journal Cancer Discovery (Mar. 7, 2016).

“Being able to track cancers in real time as they evolve following treatment has huge potential for the way we monitor cancers and intervene to stop them growing back,” said Professor Peter Johnson, chief clinician at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, who was quoted in a press release.

This investigation involved scientists from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute studying circulating tumour DNA in blood samples from seven advanced melanoma patients at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

In this early work the researchers found that they could see whether a patient was relapsing by tracking levels of circulating tumour DNA. In addition, they also found that new mutations in genes such as NRAS and PI3K appeared, possibly causing the relapse by allowing the tumour to become resistant to treatment.

“Being able to spot the first signs of relapse, so we can rapidly decide the best treatment strategy, is an important area for research. Using our technique we hope that one day we will be able to spot when a patient’s disease is coming back at the earliest point and start treatment against this much sooner, hopefully giving patients more time with their loved ones,” said Professor Richard Marais, lead author and skin cancer expert from Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.

“Our work has identified a way for us to do this but we still need to test the approach in further clinical trials before it reaches patients in the clinic,” said Prof. Marais.

Prof. Johnson concluded that “there’s still some time until we see this in the clinic but we hope that in the future, blood tests like these will help us to stay one step ahead in treating cancer.”

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